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Mia Hamm: Soccer Superstar

Aired August 18, 2001 - 11:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: She's a soccer superstar.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mia Hamm is scoring...



DONNA de VARONA, CHAIRWOMAN, 1999 WORLD CUP GAMES: When you look at women's sports and women's soccer, and you just say, Mia Hamm.





ANNOUNCER: A reluctant poster child for the sport she loves.


MIA HAMM, SOCCER PLAYER: What's hard is talking about myself.


ANNOUNCER: On the way to winning, she's overcome early odds.


CAROLINE CRUICKSHANK, SISTER: She had to wear these, as my mother calls them, painful braces.


ANNOUNCER: And personal pain.


HAMM: I'll never forget that day where my brother's life is being turned upside down. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The world's all-time leading scorer, now star of the first-ever women's professional soccer league.


HAMM: There's something that burns inside me that I want to win every time I go out there.


ANNOUNCER: Mia Hamm, her story now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

DARYN KAGAN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Daryn Kagan.

She is the face of women's soccer and an icon of women's sports. Now Mia Hamm is playing in a new women's professional soccer league, the WUSA.

The league kicked off in April, with the playoffs underway this weekend. So we decided to take a look at a soccer star who's become a role model for millions of girls who want to be like Mia.


(voice-over): Her performance on the field is a dance of determination, a ballet of power and skill. Legions of young fans dream of the day they might master her moves and follow in her fleet footsteps.

For more than half of her 29 years, Mia Hamm has played on the world stage, but she's never been comfortable in the spotlight.

HAMM: What's hard is talking about myself. And usually people put you in an environment just to, you know, throw out superlatives -- you're the best, you're this, you're that. And, you know, ever since I was little, I had -- I never felt that way.

KAGAN: Mariel Margaret Hamm was born in Selma, Alabama, on March 17, 1972. Her mother, Stephanie (ph), a former ballerina, nicknamed her Mia after a favorite ballet instructor. Her father, Bill, was an Air Force pilot.

Mia was born with a partial clubfoot -- amazing, when you consider how she uses her feet today.

CRUICKSHANK: These casts were placed on her feet to try and correct that. So she had to wear them, these, as my mother calls them, painful braces. As soon as those things were taken off of her feet, you could not stop her.

KAGAN: Mia's passion for soccer developed early. When she was just a toddler, the family was uprooted to Florence, Italy, one of the many stops during her father's Air Force career. There, in the Old World beauty of the city, he passed on his love of the game to his young daughter.

CRUICKSHANK: Mia was in a park in Italy playing, and the next thing they knew, she went darting across the green, and she was taking away a soccer ball from a kid who was, like, 5 years old, and she was maybe 2.

KAGAN: Back in the States, when Mia was 5, her parents adopted an 8-year-old Thai-American orphan named Garrett.

HAMM: Just wonderful addition. And for me an instant playmate, someone who was extremely athletic, and kind of our bond started right away. I would follow him everywhere in the neighborhood.

KAGAN (on camera): He (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the soccer field, you wanted to do well on the soccer field.

HAMM: Yes, and it was wonderful.

KAGAN (voice-over): The two played together on a soccer team coached by their father.

CRUICKSHANK: Garrett was an idol that she looked up to and tried to measure herself against.

KAGAN: Mia was used to competing against boys.

HAMM: The first three or four years, there wasn't another girl on my team. I just always felt, probably being the only girl out there, that I had to raise my game to a different level.

KAGAN: When she was in seventh grade, she even played wide receiver and quarterback on the boys' football team.

CRUICKSHANK: It was a bit of a controversy. But we went to a small Catholic school, and, of course, the guys on the team embraced it fully, because she was a good player. And eventually, I think the community did too. And I think it was just more a blow to the ego of the guys that were going up against her when they realized that it was a girl.

KAGAN: But Mia decided to focus on soccer. John Cossaboon coached her on the North Texas Regional team when she was 14.

JOHN COSSABOON, WOMEN'S SOCCER COACH, UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO: Skinny, gangly, faster than the wind. That's -- that was my first impression. The athleticism just jumped out at you.

KAGAN: Cossaboon invited the coach of the U.S. Women's National team at the time, Anson Dorrance, to come to Texas to see Mia play.

ANSON DORRANCE, WOMEN'S SOCCER COACH, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA: And I saw this short-haired brunette just take off like she was shot out of a cannon. I just couldn't believe her athleticism. And without even seeing any more of the game, I just walked all the way around the field, and I said, "Is that Mia Hamm?" And he nodded. And I said, you know, "Oh, my gosh." KAGAN: Dorrance decided to add her to his team. So at only 15, she became the youngest member ever of the U.S. National team.

HAMM: Now I'm surrounded by women that are great athletes and more competitive than I am, and, you know, train on their own. And so I remember, after the second trip, you know, Anson saying, you know, "Maybe I made a mistake, maybe you're not ready for this." And I went home, and I started doing the things that I needed to do to keep me on that team.

KAGAN (on camera): So that was a big growing-up lesson.

HAMM: Oh, yes.

KAGAN (voice-over): When Mia Hamm's story continues, a quest to compete at the Olympic level, disrupted by tragic news about her brother, Garrett.

HAMM: Yes, I'll never forget that day where my brother's life is being turned upside down.


KAGAN: A tragic turn for Mia Hamm. That's just ahead.

But first, this week's celebrity events in Passages.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): They took the good, they took the bad, and now they're taking the offer for a reunion special. The girls from "The Facts of Life" will be back for a television movie -- Blair, Natalie, Tooty (ph), and Ms. Garrett will return to the upstate New York boarding school they called home for nine seasons. No word yet if George Clooney, who played a carpenter on the show's final season, will appear.

Fans of the MTV hit "Jackass" may have to kiss the show goodbye. The show's torture-happy host, Johnny Knoxville, says he's calling it quits after one year so he can pursue a movie career. The controversial show garnered national attention when copycats in Connecticut and Kentucky were injured while attempting stunts they had seen on the show. MTV says the network is still in discussions for another season of the ratings grabber. Maybe just another Knoxville prank?

It seems the Miss America Pageant is taking a page out of the popular reality-based television format. Officials from the contest are considering changing its judging system to give non-finalists a chance to vote other contestants off. The elimination process will resemble the popular "Survivor" format of choosing cast-offs. However, the swimsuit competition will not be replaced with the Richard Hatch nude beach walk.

For more news on the beautiful people, pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week. We'll be right back.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guys, don't push, please. Don't push.

KAGAN (voice-over): Mia Hamm wasn't much older than her throngs of young admirers when at age 15, she got her start on the U.S. Women's National team.

JULIE FOUDY, SAN DIEGO SPIRIT: She was just, like, you know, a deer caught in the headlights with these big brown eyes, and overwhelmed, like we all were, with the situation.

BRANDI CHASTAIN, BAY AREA CYBERRAYS: She was older than her years were, and she went out onto the field with the grace and a flair and an excitement that I think a lot of players wish they had.

KAGAN: When she was 17, she followed her national coach, Anson Dorrance, to the University of North Carolina, a powerhouse in women's soccer. He was not only her coach there, he also became her legal guardian.

HAMM: My family was going overseas, and because of this I created a great bond with his family, his wife and three kids. I think he created an environment for me in terms of my soccer career that I could be the best I could be.

KAGAN: Mia made Carolina the best as well. She helped lead her team to four NCAA championships.

In 1991, when she was only 19, she played on the U.S. team that won the very first Women's World Cup. To Mia, winning was everything.

HAMM: I was such a little brat when I was little. I would quit before I lost. There's something that burns inside me that wants to win every time I go out there.

KAGAN: So it was a bitter disappointment when Hamm and her teammates lost to Norway in the '95 World Cup.

CARLA OVERBECK, CAROLINA COURAGE: People were just kind of saying, Oh, the U.S. is going to win again. And, you know, whether the team tried to, you know, started to believe that or not, you know, I don't know, but I just know after that, after that game, you know, we were devastated.

KAGAN: Hamm began setting her sights on the '96 Atlanta Olympics. But she was soon forced to shift her focus off the field. Her brother, Garrett, had been fighting a rare blood disorder called aplastic anemia since he was 16. Just before the Olympics, his condition took a turn for the worse. HAMM: I was there with them when his doctor came out, and, you know, this young doctor, who was probably in the mid-30s, was looking at this young man, mid-20s, and saying, you know, with tears in his eyes, "There's nothing else I can do. Your only hope is a bone marrow transplant. And the odds of your survival of a bone marrow transplant aren't very good."

And, yes, I'll never forget that day where my brother's life is being turned upside down.

KAGAN: But when the Women's National team beat China in a heart- stopping match in Athens, Georgia, Garrett was there to see his sister get the gold.

CRUICKSHANK: It was difficult physically on him to get around and to be there for the long day, but he wouldn't have missed it for the world. I mean, that was his little sister out there, and she was, you know, achieving probably one of the biggest achievements in her life. And he got to partake in that. It was very special.

KAGAN: Garrett Hamm died the following year after a bone marrow transplant at the age of 28. He left behind a wife and son.

HAMM: I think I learned so much through him about perseverance, about grace, about dignity.


HAMM: Hi, my name's Mia Hamm, and I want to welcome you to the Fourth Annual Garrett Game.


KAGAN: Hamm channeled her pain into a foundation to support bone marrow disease research. The Mia Hamm Foundation sponsors the Garrett Game. It's an annual fund-raising event played by her U.S. National teammates and top college players.

The soccer star also continued to dedicate herself to the game her brother loved. In the run-up to the '99 Women's World Cup, she notched her 108th international bowl. It was a new world record, more than any other player, male or female.

With the World Cup coming to the United States, Hamm and her teammates began getting more media attention. But would women's soccer bring in more fans?

AARON HEIFETZ, FORMER PRESS OFFICER, U.S. WOMEN'S NATIONAL TEAM: U.S. soccer and the Women's World Cup Organizing Committee made the decision to go from small stadiums to large stadiums, right, which was a gutsy decision.

De VARONA: Everybody thought we were crazy, that we were going to the biggest stadiums in America. But I -- what happened was, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) gave us a lot of confidence. HAMM: Our first game in Giant Stadium, you know, driving up and wondering why there's so much traffic on the road, and feeling like, Oh, my God, all these people are coming here for us.

KAGAN: When the World Cup opened on June 19, Giant Stadium was overflowing with 79,000 people.

De VARONA: It was just extraordinary. I mean, it just -- it took your breath away. And you saw all these young people and the sound of the stadium was different, and you saw fathers and daughters and families and young boys cheering on these great players.

KAGAN: Ninety thousand people sold out the Rose Bowl for the final, pitting the U.S. against the powerful Chinese squad. Forty million saw it on U.S. television, and millions more worldwide, the most-watched women's sporting event in history.

And what a game it was! After 90 grueling minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of overtime, the game was still scoreless. It all came down to five penalty kicks for each side. When it came to Hamm's turn, the pressure was on.

DORRANCE: The hardest thing she's done was actually the penalty kick in '99. She has this huge pressure to be the star in every game, and with that penalty kick, the pressure's overwhelming, because she misses it, and then she's the reason we lose.

KAGAN: But she didn't miss. And then the kick seen round the world. Brandi Chastain's goal-winning shot, and her shirtless moment of celebration.

CHASTAIN: That was just a pure emotional reaction to the best moment you could ever dream up on the playground, the last shot in the NBA final, the final home run in the World Series.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The new world champions, the United States of America!

HAMM: It was overwhelming, but at the same time it was one of the proudest moments for all of us, just in terms of where the sport has come. And not just our sport, but women's sports. And, you know, not for one second did we feel that we created this. There were so many women, you know, before us that helped us get where we were today. And it was our responsibility to kind of continue carrying that torch.

KAGAN: They would carry that torch even further. When we return, a super heroic fight to create a league of their own.

HAMM: There are girls out there that want to play, that have dreams. And as long as they're there, I think we owe it to them.


KAGAN: Mia Hamm finally realizes her professional dream. That part of her story is coming up. But before we take a break, another soccer player who became a U.S. household name. Here's this week's edition of "Where Are They Now?"


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): He was born Edson Arantes do Nasciemento, but the world knows him as Pele. After winning three World Cup championships for Brazil, the soccer great did his part to help popularize soccer in the United States. In 1975, he joined the New York Cosmos of the now-defunct North American Soccer League. In 1977, he led his team of a league championship.

So where is Pele now? After a recent series of oil spills, Brazil's oil giant, PetroBras, hired the soccer legend to help clean up the company's image. And Pele's quest to bring soccer to the world has led him to a partnership with the Pan American Sports Network. The all-sports channel, like Pele, places a large emphasis on international soccer.

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS will continue after this.




KAGAN (voice-over): The women of the WUSA are heroes to countless young fans, taking over cities from coast to coast, with Mia Hamm leading the charge.

But the battle to form their own professional league has been a long one. And before they set their sights on that challenge, there was one more goal they wanted to accomplish.

The Women's National team had high hopes when they headed into the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

HAMM: You know, we went into that tournament saying we wanted to win the gold medal.

OVERBECK: In the first 15 minutes, I thought we were going to win by four or five goals. I was, like, all right!

CHASTAIN: The ball gets played out to me, and she just puts this cross in, and Millie just runs through it. And she sneaks in there and scores probably one of the most important goals.

KAGAN: A goal that sent the game into sudden-death overtime. But a hand ball and a quick shot of luck gave Norway the victory and sent the U.S. home with a silver medal.

(on camera): Leading into the 2000 Olympics, a lot of pressure. Disappointment to come home with the silver? HAMM: You know, it took me a while to get over it, to be honest with you. But at the same time, you know, we are extremely lucky to be able to do what we do.

KAGAN: Which brings us to now. Why do you think the country is ready for women's professional soccer?

HAMM: I think the environment's ready, I think the timing's perfect. The audience is there. I mean, you go around and you see these young girls. And for so long as we competed, both young girls and our peers wanted the opportunity to play, and play after college and play professionally.

KAGAN (voice-over): The formation of the WUSA this year finally gave them their chance. The eight-team league includes the best players from the U.S. World Cup championship team together with top- flight international stars.


NARRATOR: Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, former teammates turn opponents in a new professional soccer league.


KAGAN: Now the former U.S. teammates are facing off against each other.


HAMM: Did you get bangs?


HAMM: Cute.

NARRATOR: WUSA, women's professional soccer.


KAGAN: The maximum salary that even the league's superstars can earn is $85,000, chump change in the high-priced world of professional athletics, a salary that Hamm has graciously accepted.

De VARONA: Players like Mia Hamm have put a salary cap on themselves because they want the league to flourish. How different than baseball, when a player goes through $252 million, and, you know, the league's talking about cutting teams, because there's not enough money to go around.

KAGAN: But Hamm does pull down big bucks in endorsements. A recent poll named her the most marketable female athlete in the United States.


HAMM (singing): Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.

MICHAEL JORDAN: No, you can't.

HAMM: Yes, I can.

JORDAN: No, you can't!

HAMM: Yes, I can!


KAGAN: Her image is everywhere -- Gatorade, Nike, Wheaties. There's even a Mia Hamm Soccer Barbie. Compared to other sports figures, Mia is a marketing bargain. While it's estimated that Tiger Woods pulls in more than $54 million in annual endorsements, Hamm reportedly pockets a mere $2 million.

But commercialism comes with a high price, pressure to be the number-one soccer player in the world.

(on camera): What if I could wave a magic wand and make all this go away, the cameras, the publicity, and your whole job as Mia Hamm would be just to play the game?

HAMM: Well, I want to use my talents to the best of my ability, but, you know, I'm -- I just want to be appreciated and loved, and I don't need to be on TV to do it. You know, I have a great family and I have wonderful friends, and that's what motivates me to go out every day and play the way that I do, and to try to be the best player and best person I can be.

KAGAN (voice-over): Hamm has made personal sacrifices to play the game she loves. Her six-year marriage to her college sweetheart, Christian Corey, is ending, a casualty of her soccer career, his career as a Marine helicopter pilot, and too much time apart.

HAMM: I've been playing, I've been playing soccer for a long time, and this is extremely important to me, and I know what he does is extremely important to him. And, you know, in order to be the people that we are today, I think to take those away would make us different.

KAGAN: She's also had to deal with her superstar status.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who'd you come to see?


KAGAN: Like it or not, Hamm lives in the limelight.

HEIFETZ: She wasn't born to be a public figure, you know, it just happened. Because of her humbleness and her caring for her teammates, you know, she doesn't like all the attention put on her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HAMM: You know, tremendous player. I think our defense played extremely well. I think Lindy Stacker (ph) and Amy (ph) and Skyler Little (ph) was huge for us today.


FOUDY: Everything she says, every award she claims, you feel and you know that she really is grateful for the teammates that surround her.

KAGAN: Imagine an NBA or NFL star carrying the team's water bucket. Even with all the fame and fortune, she hasn't forgotten her roots.

HAMM: The environments that my friends and family put me in is always to push myself to be better, and so in that respect, they are the reason why I'm sitting here today.

De VARONA: American sports fans just love athletes that are passionate about what they do, and I think that she just earned that kind of respect. When you look at women's sports and women's soccer, you just say, Mia Hamm.


KAGAN: You can tune in to the WUSA playoffs on TNT. The championship game will take place next Saturday, August 25.

And for more on Mia Hamm, check out our Web site at

Next week, she is known worldwide simply by her first name, Madonna. A profile of the megastar as she tours the States.

I'm Daryn Kagan. For all of us here at PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, thanks for watching.



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